PLAYlist 32: Everdell

Jan 10, 2019 By Austin Trunick
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“For every time, turn! Turn! Turn! There is a season, turn! Turn! Turn…”

In an enchanted valley, you and your fellow critters have lived peacefully for generations under the sprawling branches of the forest's largest tree. The woods have become crowded and it’s come time to venture forth and found new villages in unknown lands. Winter is breaking, and you’re prepared to lead forth one of these groups of brave settlers. As the seasons come and go, can you build up the most prosperous new kingdom before next winter arrives?

Everdell is a recent arrival to the tabletop scene, blowing through its initial print run before all but the hippest gamers among us had caught wind of it. Now its publisher, Starling Games, is preparing a reprint so that everyone else will be able to enjoy this incredibly attractive, streamlined worker placement title. Let's take a look, shall we? 

The first thing you’ll notice, before you're even able to appreciate there’s a board game to be played here, is that Everdell is downright beautiful. From the unusual, rounded board to the multi-tiered, three-dimensional tree at its head, Everdell looks more like, say, an Ewok village playset than a worker placement game in the vein of Agricola or Lords of Waterdeep. It’s really cool-looking on the table, but the designers didn’t call it a day after assembling a neat board. The painterly card artwork by Andrew Bosley (sampled in the box art featured at the top of this column) goes such a long way in transporting players into the game’s woodland fairy tale setting. With 48 unique cards (in the standard edition) you’ll be thumbing through many different illustrations in each game. Where worker placement games regularly fall into the trap of dry theming (turn-of-the-century fish mongery, anyone?), Everdell does an admirable job of selling you on its world and magical critters.

Did we mention custom wooden meeples? (Take your pick of squirrel, mouse, hedgehog, or turtle.) And what about the resources that aren’t boring cardboard chips, but actually look like what they’re meant to represent? (There are rubbery berries, jagged chunks of tree resin, plastic pebbles and wooden logs.) From the thick tokens to linen-finished cards, the high production value of Everdell borders on being absurdly lavish. It’s easily one of the most luxurious-feeling games we’ve played over the last year.

All this talk of the Everdell’s beauty is starting to make me feel shallow. Let’s discuss how the game actually plays.

Each player will start with only two worker meeples, but will unlock more as the game moves along. On each turn, players will have their choice of three actions. They can place a worker; more often than not this is your standard “drop a dude, take a resource or card,” but some spaces let a player claim victory points under specific conditions. They can play a card using resources (or by triggering another card already in their tableau); these go into their personal village. Or, they can prepare for their next season. This means they’ll take back all of their workers, collect new ones from the top of the tree, and trigger any special events caused by a change in seasons. Usually this will cause cards in your village tableau to produce resources, so properly timing your seasonal transitions can be a major key to getting ahead in Everdell.

You’re working to build not only the most valuable village, but one that triggers combos and keeps your turns moving. There are 48 unique cards in the standard game’s 128-card deck. Each has a resource cost; if you can pay it from the resources you’ve collected, you can play it from either your hand or a public pool of eight cards in the center of the board. When played, the card will move into your village tableau. (It’s recommended you arrange your cards in a 5x3 grid, so you’ll remember you’re limited to only 15.) These cards, representing locations or critters, will usually grant special abilities, and are worth a set number of points at game’s end. More significantly, the location cards have designated critters they pair with. If you already have that location in your village when the paired critter lands on the table or in your hand, you can play it without paying its resource cost. As resources in Everdell are usually scarcer than you’d think, gaining a free critter card can be huge.

The game ends when all players have finished their final season, autumn. (With winter comes the game’s final scoring phase.) Interestingly, this will happen sometimes at radically different times for each player. When one player moves into a new season, the others continue with whichever they’re on. It’s not unusual for, say, two players to be in autumn while two are still working through summer, or for one player to still be taking turn after turn when all of his or her opponents have already finished up.

For a game with such a large deck of cards and so many varied pieces, Everdell is relatively simple and deceptively quick. A worker placement game where you’ll only be placing a handful of workers throughout the entire course of it, it’s also a game that starts really small and then explodes in size by the final rounds. On your first turn, the two workers you begin with and the prizes you’ll claim with them feel especially meager; once you get a couple cards in your tableau, however, things will start to chain together and you’ll suddenly find a multitude of options in front of you.  

The box projects a game will last 20 minutes per player, and ours fell very close to that estimate. If you’re playing with only two or three players, it’s not inconceivable that you’ll be able to bang out two or three sessions of Everdell in a night. Designer James A. Wilson was wise to facilitate a lot of variability from game to game: not only will the selection of cards available be different in each play-through, but there will be a different arrangement of worker spots dealt onto the board, as well as new scoring bonuses. Altogether, it makes a game that you can play two, three, four times in a row without it feeling overly same-y. That’s a really good thing. There’s also a tricky solo variant that turns Everdell into a race against the clock, as you’re playing against a randomly automated rodent named Rugwort who will gobble up cards before you can get to them. It’s not quite as engaging as playing against other humans, but it’s a welcome addition right out of the box.

Now, board games take a long time to manufacture, and the reprint of Everdell won’t be in stores until likely the fall of 2019. It’s a long time to wait, but those with patience will have their choice of the standard release of the game or the even fancier Collector’s Edition. In many cases, a collector’s edition of a game will only be available to buyers who, in a leap of faith, throw a bunch of money down on a Kickstarter; there, they always run the risk that the game they’re pre-ordering could be bad, and then they’ll be stuck with a shinier, expensive version of it. Here, though, we can already tell you that Everdell is pretty darn good – and if you’re into it, you can spend a bit extra up front to get a more blinged-out copy. All of the great components I outlined earlier are the same in the standard box, but Collector’s Edition owners will have access to some expansion cards, an extra set of rat meeples, metal point tokens, a special die for the solo game, and more – you can peruse both versions here, and decide which choice make the most sense for you. 

Everdell is published by Starling Games.

For this column’s playlist, we’ve taken Everdell’s seasons theme and run with it. In it, you’ll find some of our favorite tracks that conjure up feelings of each of the four seasons. As a bonus, each time one season transitions into another, we’ve inserted a track about seasons changing. At 80 minutes, it’s enough to cover your first game (or two, if you’re playing one-on-one!) 

***

Previous PLAYlist columns: Kingdomino, CitrusHistory of the World, Altiplano, Pioneer Days, Crystal Clans, Jurassic Park: Danger!, PhotosynthesisIce CoolFood Truck ChampionArs Alchimia & LemuriaA Game of Thrones CatanTroyesTwilight Imperium: Fourth EditionFlip ShipsNMBR 9UnearthEscape from 100 Million B.C., Orleans (plus Trade & Intrigue)Whistle StopCaverna: Cave vs CaveTwilight StruggleHonshuBärenpark, Notre Dame & In the Year of the DragonYokohamaClank! A Deck-Building AdventureVillages of ValeriaNew York SliceWatson & HolmesHanamikoji.



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